Best of 2013: 7 Ways Imagination Ruled the World

We're excited to see just how many schools and communities are embracing the importance of letting a child’s imagination run wild.

This year, conversations about creativity and innovation have been happening all over the world. And while there's still a long way to go, we're excited to see just how many schools and communities are embracing the importance of letting a child’s imagination run wild.

A fantastic example of this is when five-year-old Miles Scott became Batkid in San Francisco-turned-Gotham City this November.

The leukemia survivor imagined a world where he could fight crime just like his favorite superhero, Batman. And thanks to thousands of volunteers, supporters, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, his dream of saving damsels in distress and warding off the Riddler finally came true.

So as December comes to an end, we want to give a special shout out to Batkid and the people of San Francisco for awakening our imaginations. We also want to recognize a few inspirational thought leaders, visionary organizations, and powerful movements that are harnessing children's creativity.

1. Hip-Hop and Science Collide: We love, love how hip-hop sparks students' interest in science. And recently, this made a splash in New York City and Oakland, California.

In NYC during the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. (Bring Attention to Transforming Teaching, Learning and Engagement in Science) kids from 10 high schools rapped about reproduction, Darwin, and the Big Bang Theory. Not only did they learn key science concepts, the competition also helped them become more confident and engaged in school.

"Science Genius is about harvesting the power of urban youth culture," Christopher Emdin, a professor of education at Columbia University's who created the program, told NPR. "Once they are able to incorporate the arts and their culture into the science content, they take it and they run with [it]."

In Oakland, the Science History Rap Battle pitted determined seventh graders against each other. Working with their teacher Tom McFadden, students created a music video based on "Clique" by Kanye West and "Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani about how DNA's structure was discovered.


2. Hour of Code: Coding was on the tip of everyone's tongue this year and for good reason. By 2020, there will be 1.4 million computing jobs in America, and only 400,000 computer science students.

There's a lot wrong with this picture, and that's why we, along with Obama, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and many other leaders, celebrities, and educators, are fans of This organization is teaching kids the basics of coding while debunking the myth that it's just too difficult to learn. In December during Computer Science Education Week, turned up the volume on their mission. Through their Hour of Code campaign, they are inspiring students all over the world to take one hour and learn the basics of coding.

In the first three days after the launch, more than 12 million people had already participated, writing nearly 400,000,000 lines of code. Using fun and engaging tutorials, kids as young as five are transforming their ideas into games, animated stories, and apps.

3. #ArtsMatter: It's no secret that when budgets are cut, art and music are the first courses to go. This has caused backlash for years and in 2013, a campaign helped move the needle to bring back the arts.

The LA Fund's #ArtsMatter campaign brought arts education to the forefront of the conversation in Los Angeles. On buses and billboards, Angelenos caught a glimpse at original art by some of the city's most renowned artists. The message from conceptual artist John Baldessari was that kids should "Dare to Dream." Street artist Shepard Fairey gave kids permission to "See Things Differently."

4. The Creative Play Movement: At the Imagination Foundation, we're strong advocates of creative play—a simple way for children to discover their passions, spark their imaginations, and foster their natural powers of creativity.

This year, one of the ways kids took part in creative play was through our Global Cardboard Challenge, a yearly event inspired by the short film Caine's Arcade, that invites kids around the world to design and build awesome creations using cardboard, recycled materials, and imagination.

Thanks to the support of community leaders, parents, and educators, 85,559 people from 46 countries, including Rwanda, Chile, and Vietnam participated. Kids built awesome arcades, elaborate Rube Goldberg machines, robots, medieval castles, subterranean cardboard tunnels in their libraries, and much more.

5. Genius Hour: The Genius Hour movement really gained momentum this year. For a set period of time each week, students are empowered to explore their own passions during class time. Kids have made films, websites, and all kinds of other wonderfully creative projects during the allotted time period.

It didn't start in the classroom, however. Genius Hour was actually modeled after Google's 20 percent program—an initiative where employees at one of the most innovative companies on the planet were encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time at the office working on something company-related that they were extremely passionate about. What came out of this small window of time was incredible. First, there was Google News, then Google Adsense, and then Gmail.

Soon enough, this idea found its way to other companies—and then it was quickly adapted for the classroom. Teachers can join into the #GeniusHour Twitter chat to learn more!

6. Schools Say Yes to Imagination: More and more school leaders are seeing how important this piece is to the education puzzle. Two of the schools that we're fans of are the Nueva School in San Francisco and the new Kipp Iluminar Academy in East Los Angeles.

At the pre-K through 12 Nueva School, we love that design thinking and social and emotional learning are essential parts of the curriculum. Both are meant to teach students empathy and problem-solving skills that will help them tackle real world issues. The sixth graders, for example, recently did some work with Kaiser Permanente. As MindShift reports, "Students interviewed real patients to understand their health experiences and to improve them."

At Kipp Iluminar Academy, the motto is "Imagination Ignited," and their hope is to show students how imagination and creativity lead to innovation. School founder Mara Bond explains why it is an essential part of the elementary school's mission. "When it comes to anything creative," she says, "I feel like our education system has gone into a direction where it thinks that it is a choice. Here, I wanted to make a statement and that’s why it’s part of our name, our tagline and everything we do."

7. A Close Look Into Outer Space: For decades, kids have been able to learn about space from books and movies, but they’ve only been able to imagine what it’s really like to be an astronaut. Now, thanks to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s wildly popular YouTube videos, kids—and adults—can experience the wonder of space right from their home computer.

In each video, Hadfield shows us how things work when there’s no gravity. A few of our favorites include the ones about crying in space, making a delicious space burrito, and the crazy thing water does when you wring out a towel.


We loved how these videos have sparked curiosity about science and space and can't wait to see what Chris Hadfield shows us next.

Jenny Inglee is the Imagination Curator at the Imagination Foundation—a nonprofit thats mission is to find, foster, and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in kids around the world.

Small genius image via Shutterstock